5 things to watch for at the ACM Awards in Las Vegas

The cowboy boots shall tread where no cowboys have tread before.

When the annual Academy of Country Music Awards return to the MGM Grand Garden on Sunday, the festivities will boast a fresh look.

“We’re going to be premiering a new set, a new stage for the show,” says Pete Fisher, CEO of the Academy of Country Music. “That’s always exciting, to incorporate the latest technology, which gives us the ability to really create some special visual moments in addition to the music.”

Aside from an updated presentation, here’s what to look for during this year’s show, which airs at 8 p.m. on CBS:

Can anyone stop Chris?

Two things not to do when it comes to Chris Stapleton:

1) Put his love on your back burner.

2) Underestimate the man’s trophy-compiling prowess.

Seriously, it’d be hard to imagine Stapleton having a better ACMs than he did last year.

What happened that night?

Well, Stapleton celebrated his 40th birthday, won male entertainer of the year and album of the year and his wife gave birth to twin sons.

This year, Stapleton is again a top nominee, tied for the most nods (six) with Dan + Shay.

Stapleton wasn’t able to attend the ACMs last year for obvious reasons.

Perhaps he’ll be able to accept any awards in person this time.

Collaborations galore

Neck tattoos are kind of a new thing in country music.

So is the 25-year old chart-topper who sports one.

Ascendant singer Kane Brown — who’s up for single of the year for his hit “Heaven” and has the Chinese symbol for “love” stenciled into his flesh — brings fresh ink and influences alike to contemporary country with his R&B-indebted sound.

It’s fitting, then, that Brown will perform with similarly soulful singer Khalid in the ACM’s most boundary-pushing pairing Sunday, one that underscores country’s increasingly permeable creative borders.

“As you’ve seen over the past several years, the country genre itself has really broadened in terms of its sound, getting inspiration and influence from all different genres of music, whether its R&B, hip-hop, EDM, whatever,” Fisher says. “Those influences are heard on country records today, and we want to represent that music on the show.”

Other collaborations include Kelly Clarkson pulling double duty with Jason Aldean and Dan + Shay, Aldean reuniting with buddies Florida Georgia Line, Dierks Bentley dueting with Brandi Carlile, Eric Church performing with Ashley McBryde, and Maren Morris saluting “All My Favorite People” with Brothers Osbourne.

Aldean’s big sales net an even bigger honor

It’s been his kinda party for, oh, over a decade now.

A quick recap of Aldean’s career: 18 million albums and 39 million singles sold; 4 billion digital streams earned; four consecutive No. 1 albums; sold-out stadium tours; 13 ACM awards won, including three entertainer of the year victories.

As such, Aldean will receive the biggest honor of the night with the artist of the decade award.

“It’s a once-in-a-decade opportunity,” Fisher says, “It puts him alongside names such as Garth Brooks, George Strait, Loretta Lynn and Alabama.”

ACM Flashbacks are back

ACM Flashbacks are kind of a country music gene map.

As such, the genre’s past will be present Sunday when various hit-makers revisit hits of yesterday.

In one pairing, 29-time ACM Award winners Brooks & Dunn will perform with ACM new male artist of the year Luke Combs.

In another, 24-time ACM winner George Strait will share the stage with Miranda Lambert, the most decorated artist in ACM history with 32 wins.

Together, they’ll turn back time for an evening.

“The great thing about country music and the quality of the songs is that the shelf life of the music is so much longer in terms of longevity and how fans and artists alike have endeared themselves to music that was at the top of the charts 25 or 30 years ago,” Fisher says. “The show will truly span the generations.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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